A Found Retrospective
LUIS DÍAZ : CONTENT AND FORMS
(With respect to his book Memories: Luis Aldana Díaz In Person. Guatemala: Serviprensa Centroamericana, 2011)
By Mario Roberto Morales
The memoirs of Luis Díaz that concerns us today, says its author, has the structure of a tree whose trunk is made of letters and whose foliage abounds in visual art. He also told me, ‘I wanted to have a hole (between practical and sensual ) on the left side of the book (so that the reader could carry it hanging down), but because of publishing setbacks, its author had to be content to leave it gaily printed.
The truth is that this book is a kind of artistic inventory in which the author transits through his own artistic path ordering it chronologically and thus illustrating—for future generations—his aesthetic evolution process. This is certainly an invaluable effort, especially in these golden days where there is an absence of cultural research with a historicist approach.
Luis Díaz is, if not the most experimental of the Guatemalan painters of the twentieth century and so far this century, one of the most enthusiastic artists who has dared to experiment with apparently dissimilar shapes and materials over a sustained attempt to formulate his own cultural identity through art. And it is in this sense that his alternations between painting and sculpture on the one hand, and architecture and the so-called minor arts and industrial design on the other, must be judged.
As one can attest by immersing in his book, since the beginning. Luis was attracted by the possibility of interpreting the meaning of his own country’s popular culture, in the language of what might be called an expressionist figurative abstraction (with apologies to art critics). In other words, by the opportunity—realizada by Miguel Angel Asturias in literature—to express the historical-cultural process of Guatemala through the formal resources of post-avantgarde experimentation, both in terms of form and the supporting material.
Like any artist who respects the authenticity of his expression, Luis Díaz was caught up in the controversial ideological-cultural aesthetic movement of the 70s, a decade that saw the renewal of the arts with the Grupo Vértebra (Vértebra Group), on the one hand, and with artists like Efraín Recinos, Margoth Fanjul and Luis Díaz, on the other (without any intention of being comprehensive in this list of painters); also, the revitalization of music, poetry, theater, and the novel. That discussion had to do with the relevance, or lack of, of abstraction as a vehicle for expressing our social, political, and cultural reality, facing an also expressionistic figurativism in which abstraction made no concessions to what its proponents saw as a kind of chromatic and formal decorativism when referring to geometric shapes and the absence of the human figure as the center of the pictorial composition.
The controversy was not without foundation, even though in those years as ideological and polarized by the cold war, it took sectarian extremes that separated both the artists and the writers. And not without basis because it is known that, before the rise of realistic art—criticism that develops after the avantgarde—the corporate institutions that financed the arts in the United States imposed the line of non-figurative abstraction as the official expression of modern painting (and now of postmodernism as well, because the line is still in force), seeking to turn the aesthetic exercise into a mere catharsis of color and shapes, and thereby stifle the art’s exercise of discretion with regard to economic, political, and cultural problems.
However, in the case of Luis Díaz, this charge is irrelevant, because—as we see in the pages of his book—the formal experimentation and the use of abstraction in his work in no way negates figuration, let alone the frontal approach of the political and cultural issues of his time. This is particularly visible in works like “Motagua-Xequijel” 1973 (book cover), in which the rebels’ blood invaded the river’s blue waters, both in 1524 and in 1973, thus denouncing a dictatorial and repressive history in ways that some might consider them to be in the minimalist style, though no less effective in the consciousness of the receiver.
But the dimension of Luis Díaz’s work does not end in the complaint, but covers the interpretation of past cultural history in the language of pictorial modernity, visible in such works as “El Gucumatz en persona” (The Gucumatz in person, 1971), and “El quetzal en persona” (The quetzal in person, 1984) , and even “El maíz en llamas” (Corn on fire, from the series “Flamígeras” [flaming], 1992) and “Libre al viento” (Free in the wind, mural facade of the Torre Nova building, 2005). In all these works there is a recurrent effort to interpret local culture and identity and its problems in a visual language developed through post-avantgarde experimentation, as an ironic yet aching cry about our cherished and never achieved economic, political, and cultural autonomy.
It seems to me that in this way it can be expressed, if not the main aesthetic and ideological core of Luis Díaz’s work, at least one of the ideologems encouraging all of his work, in which every viewer can perceive a unity, a consistency, and an unambiguous mandate, amid a huge formal and expressive diversity, and an obsessive experimentalism that expresses the intensity of his searches and also that of his findings.
I said earlier that the experimentalism of Luis Díaz not only led him on a journey across visual arts genres, but also across support materials. And it is in this sense that his work moves from the oils and acrylics to bronze, stone, and wood—through metal scraps, concrete, and iron, among other materials. His prints, installations, mosaics, posters, murals, altars, and furniture acknowledge above all his will to express through flat shapes and textured volumes that evoke popular everyday objects, the cultural contradictions of his people.
To mention other memorable works by Luis Díaz would be idle, especially in the presence of this extraordinary book, so there remains for me but to invite the public to enter into it, knowing that they venture into the artistic-biographical journey of one of the Latin American painters who has best expressed the local-popular through artistic forms of the most rigorous contemporary cosmopolitanism, thereby opening a gap through which our local heritage sneaks into globality with its own original accent.
Guatemala, March 15, 2012.